Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Intro: How to Make a Book When the Lights Go Out

For ease in following the steps of bookmaking, this blog's posts read from the 1st step to the last one as you scroll down (unlike most blogs where the most recent post is first).

"Book Arts" can look off-puttingly swank and expensive, seeming to require wood-and-brass presses, marbled handmade papers, and gold leaf.
But basic book binding is something you can do for free, with materials you could find in an alley:
cardboard, paper wrappers, and string.

When a friend recently said she'd like to learn how to make a book, I set myself a project, in guerrilla spirit: to document and blog the steps of basic book binding, with stuff you probably already have on hand.

This scruffy book, above, right, is the result of the bookmaking process I present here, step by step, on this blog. It is made from stuff I mostly scrounged. (Of course you could make it more elegant, if you so choose.)

"We're gonna make us a book, Dog."
I am no survivalist! but I am somewhat inspired by the vision of Mad Max (left, from the 1980s Road Warrior movies), living after an apocalyptic war over oil, in a world without electricity and energy.

Who knows if we'll always have these nifty computers?
It's a good idea to remember how to do basic things with our hands and our brains.

(Btw, the dog with Max is named Dog. He's a Blue Heeler, an Australian working breed.)

Note: I taught myself to bind books years ago, from a Xeroxed pamphlet of handwritten instructions: Binding Western Codex Books at the Kitchen Table and Other Methods (1980), by Jno Cook. I owe a debt of gratitude to Professor Cook.
(According to a 2007 resume, Cook teaches photography at Columbia College, Chicago, and this pamphlet still exists only in Xerox form.)

P.S. There are lots of other sites and books on the topic. For instance, for an admirably clear and simple set of online instructions, go here:
How to Make a Simple Hardcover Book.
Nonetheless, I am going to publish the process all over again, for my pleasure, with the help of Maja and her hands.

Also: You can follow the exact same steps to make much more finished looking books too: just use different materials, and measure more carefully than I usually do.
I actually used a ruler to make the books to the left here.

Bookmaking: I. Get Your Stuff Together

I handwrote the steps of binding a book, in keeping with the "at the kitchen table" feel of the project, but I will also type out instructions, below the photos--and I'll amplify the steps--so you can print them out.
Keep a copy at hand, and refer to the photos as you teach yourself to make a book.

I. Gather Your Stuff

Basic materials you will need:

1. Blank paper, for the guts of the book. I am using brown-paper grocery bags here, just to show you can use anything. (Maybe later I'll write about how to make paper.)

2. Board for the book's covers. I am using a cardboard box. Any stiff material will do, even wood. Art stores sell bookbinding board for this purpose.

3. Scissors and/or knife/box cutter/x-acto. You'll need to cut the paper and board with something--or, if this is post-apocalypse, you could tear them with your hands or teeth.

4. Cloth, for making tapes to attach the paper to the covers, and also cloth to cover your final book, if you want. I am using a ripped pair of jeans. Linen is the classic material for the cloth tapes, and art stores sell beautiful book cloth for covers, specially lined with paper so the glue doesn't soak through.

5. Needle and soft thread. Make sure the needle's eye is big enough to fit the thread through. The thread should be soft--like the embroidery thread I am using--so it doesn't cut through the paper. Classic bookbinding thread is waxed linen. If you are on the run and don't have a needle, you could thread string or whatever you have at hand through the holes you will make in the paper with a...

6. ...Hole-poker, to make sewing-guide holes in the paper. I'm using thumbtacks, but pointed tools of the sort used for pottery or dissection are options. For that matter, you could use a thorn.

7. Weights, for pressing the book as its glued bits dry. Book binders use beautiful presses, but bricks are just fine. You can wrap the brick(s) in cloth or wax paper to make sure the rough edges don't hurt the paper. Or you could stand on top of the book, as it dries; if you don't have anywhere you need to be for a while.

8. Masking tape, for holding down the cloth tapes in place while you sew. Book binders have a special frame for this.

9. Pencil... and ruler (optional). I didn't write "ruler" on my handwritten list, because I eyeball my measurements, unless I'm making something fancy. It is entirely a matter of personality, how careful you are about measurements and how tidy you want the final piece to be.

10. Binder clips/clothespins, handy for keeping the parts of your book together as you assemble it.

11. Glue, to stick the cloth tapes to the book covers. I'm using Elmer's here, because that's what I have. If you have no glue, you could make paste from flour and water. However, this is the one time where I recommend buying the best material, if you can: PVA glue. You can get a little bottle of it for a few bucks at an art store.
PVA stands for "poly-vinyl-acetate," and it's a flexible plastic glue that won't crack off or hurt the paper. (It goes to show how long it's been since I worked with paper that I don't have any on hand, because it really is the best.)

Bookmaking II: Prepare Paper, Make Signatures

II. Cut the paper down to size; pile into batches called signatures.

Due to the laws of physics, if you fold all a pile of all your sheets of paper in half, it'd make a big old wad, bulging out way too much in the center. Your final book would never lie flat.
So we'll divide the sheets of paper into manageable batches, called signatures.
Then we'll pile them on top of each other to make the "book block," which is the body of the book.

You can cut the paper down to a predetermined size. Or you can be lazy like me, and let the paper determine the final size: I just keep cutting the large sheets in half until they are a decent size.
(That's why I cut the cover boards after I cut the paper--it's easier to match the cover board-size to the paper-size than the paper to the covers.)

Easiest of all, you can use 8 1/2" x 11" prepared paper--like white computer-printer paper, possibly from your workplace? Fold it in half, and you have a neat pocket-sized book. Perfect for Mad Max.

1. If your paper is too big, you'll need to cut it down to size.
Since I'm using brown paper bags, Maja and I have a bunch of cutting to do.

Scissors can leave choppy cut marks. For a smooth, soft-edged cut, I use a box cutter. You can also use a sharp knife.
To help make a nice cut, first fold the paper, and rub along the folded crease. This prepares the paper's internal fibers for their coming severance.
But you know what? You can just tear it. Neatness doesn't count in this world.

2. Arrange your paper into batches (signatures).
The number of sheets of paper in each signature depends on the thickness of your paper. Experiment: fold a few sheets together and see if the bundle lies nice and flat in the center.

Since brown paper is pretty thick, I'm only using 3 sheets per signature.

3. Fold each batch of paper in half. Crease the edges well. Using your hands to crease paper quickly wears your skin thin. Use something with a hard but not rough edge, like the wood edge of your pencil.

There is actually a handy-dandy tool people who work with paper use to fold paper: a bone folder. It is a piece of animal bone cut into a flat, smooth, knife-like shape.

(Dog can help locate you some bones.)

Bookmaking III. Cutting the Cover Board

III. Measure and cut two pieces of board to cover your book.
I'm using an old cardboard box to make my book's covers.
You can use anything: art supply stores sell special book board, which is great.
You can use scrap wood, old license plates, whatever, though you might have to get creative about how to bind the paper to the covers, if you use a nonporous material (one that won't take glue).

1. Mark up your board.
You want your covers to be a little bit bigger than the inside book block (folded-up paper), so they will protect the edges of the paper.
I just trace around the paper onto the cardboard, and then cut generously around the pencil marks.

And you probably want your covers to the same size, though that's optional, so I use the first cover as a template to trace out where to cut the second cover.
(Almost everything is optional, if you can think of a way to make your option work.)

2. Cut your boards with an x-acto blade, or whatever sharp cutting object you have on hand.
Set the covers aside, for now.

Bookmaking IV: Cut Fabric Tapes for Spine

IV. Now we cut fabric strips, called tapes (traditionally made of linen, but here of denim from old blue jeans). The tapes will function to attach the book block (pile of papers folded in half) to the covers.

1. Cut the fabric into tapes about 1/4 inch wide and long enough to wrap around the spine and onto the fron of the book. Cut enough tapes to space them every 1 or 2 inches.
(Sorry, this futureland is nonmetric, because your American guide is a hopeless nonstarter in math.)

2. Attach the tapes to the edge of the table with masking tape, to hold them in place. We'll be punching sewing-guide holes around each fabric tape, so

3. mark with pencil on either side of the fabric. Also mark entry/exit holes about 1/4 inch in from the edge of the paper.

V: Poke Sewing-Guide Holes

1. Turn the paper with the pencil guide marks inside out.

2. Insert marked paper in the center of each signature, to use as a hole-punching guide.

3. Poke hole at each pencil mark with pokey-thingy.
Maja's using a thumbtack, but anything with a sharp point works.
Dissecting or dental tools, pottery tools, etc.

VI. Sew Up Spine

1.We've already taped the fabric strips to the table edge, but it also helps to tape them to the top of the paper signature too, to hold them in place.

2. Thread your needle with enough thread to sew up one signature, down the next, up the next, and so on, unless you have a lot more than 3-5 signatures.
I only have 3 signatures, so I've measured the thread to be 3-lengths worth, plus a bit. Don't bother with knotting the end of the thread.

3. Start by going in the entry hole, about 1/4" from the edge of the paper.

4. Then simply sew in-and-out up the first signature, going around each fabric strip.

5. When you get to the end of the first signature, place the next one on top, go in its first entry hole, and sew your way back down.

6. And back up the next one, and so on. When you've sewed up all the signatures, tie off the loose end. Don't worry too much about securing it--we'll be glueing up the spine later.

Hey! It's starting to look like a book!

VII: Glue Fabric Tapes to Book

Now we're going to glue the paper guts of the book to the outside covers.

1. Position the cover boards on either side of the book block.
The fabric tapes are going to go on the outside of the covers, so leave them flapping out.
You can also tape them to the inside, if you want to hide them, though I think that makes the book a wee bit less sturdy. Like I said, you can do anything you want, long as you can make it work for you.

2. Clip the boards in place, just to hold the whole thing steady.

3. And glue down the fabric strips.
You really don't need a ton of glue.
For a nice glue job, if you're more patient than I am, spread a thin layer of glue on each piece of whatever you're glueing together and let the glue dry a couple minutes, until tacky, before pressing the two things together.

4. And run a little bit of glue along the spine.
Be sure to cover the knots where you tied the thread-ends together, but again, don't use a lot of glue. You don't want to soak the paper and make it buckle.

VIII: Set to Dry

Here's an easy step. Why did I make it its own post?
Well, anyway, here's what you do:

1. Take the clips off.

2. Wrap your book loosely in plastic or wax-paper, to keep the glue from sticking to other things, like toast crumbs on your table.

3. Put a big old brick or other very heavy thing, like a piano, on top of the book and leave it there. Then the gluey bits of the book will dry nice and flat and not warp or wrinkle.

4. Let dry several hours or even overnight, if you are that sort. I rush things and sometimes that means my books are a bit jollywhompered, which is generally OK by me.

5. When the book is dry, basically you have a complete book.

The following steps are more about personal expression than anything (not that that's not important!), though adding a spine and covering the book will also add strength. But it'd take some effort to tear this book apart at this stage.
I used to make notebooks like this, and they stood up to a lot of hauling around.

IX: Create a Hard Spine for the Book

That's a banana-flavored popsicle (top right), I want you to know, not lemon.
Not only did Mad Max not have computers (he was pre-computer anyway), he didn't--gasp--have frozen treats. Imagine life without ice-cream...

This step is optional--you don't have to have add a spine to your book. But it makes it look more like a "book," and that's kind of satisfying.

1. Trace around the spine edge of your book onto the same material you made your cover boards out of (cardboard box, in this case). You want the spine to be as wide and tall as the edge, but no more or it'll stick out all awkward.

2. Cut out the spine. Don't hold the book in place, like I told Maja to do for this picture--that makes no sense at all. I wasn't thinking right. (Honestly, it was harder to document all these steps than I'd thought it would be.)

X: Glue Fabric to Spine

1. Cut out a piece of fabric that will serve to cover the spine and attach it to the book covers.
I only want the fabric to cover part of the book, because I want to finish covering it with a different material.
If you want the fabric to cover your entire book, open the book and place it face down on the fabric and cut a piece an inch or two bigger all round.

2. No-brainer here: glue the spine down in the center of the cloth.

3. Press under brick (and plastic) to dry.

XI: Glue Spine & Fabric Onto Covers

We're almost to the end.
These look like futzy steps, but they make sense as you go along.

1. Cut your fabric on each end of the spine, as wide as the spine.
Glue down each strip over the top and bottom edge of the spine.

2. Then cut a wedge into the fabric at the top of the spine.
What you're doing is removing extra fabric that would bulk up when you wrap the fabric around the book covers. You'll see at step 8 (look ahead if that helps).

3. Lay the fabric-covered spine over the book.

4. Mark glue-guides on the covers with a pencil.

5. Glue up the covers. Again, don't soak the board with glue. Glue is actually stronger than it might seem and too much just gums up the works and squeezes out the edge and gets on the Dog.

6. Glue down the fabric onto the covers.
Don't glue down the spine--leave it free floating.
And don't wrap the fabric tightly around the book! The covers'll jam up against the spine, and it won't open and close easily. But you don't want it floppy either. So, glue it down and...

7. then make a little "gutter" to allow for the covers to bend. It should be about the width of a knitting needle. Use the edge of a blunt instrument to make this gutter.

8. Glue down the edges onto the inside of the covers.
Here's where you'll see why you cut the wedges out.

9. Protect the book block from the glued-up fabric with plastic (or wax paper).

10. Close the book.

11. Press for several hours or overnight. Even I let the book dry for several hours at this stage, as I really want the thing to set up right.
When it's dry, it's done!
Whether or not you go on to cover the rest of the book depends on what you want it to look like and what you're going to use the book for. This cardboard book is now stronger than most paperbacks you carry around.

The Book, For Now

I decided to cover my book only with stuff I could find in the alley.
[More about that in final post, below.]

I liked the arrows on the cover so much, I was reluctant to cover them up, so I was glad to find a see-through mesh bag (for Persian Limes) for the front cover. (Or I could flip the book around and it could be the back cover.)

After I glued that up (and pressed it with a brick so the cover wouldn't warp), with a yellow bit of some package for accent, I decided to leave the back cover bare, because I like it. Unless I find something better one day, walking through the alley.

And there you have it.